I cannot remember, ever and ever ago, that I looked derisively at Gays or Lesbians. I do know there is aberrant behavior when it comes to sexuality.
I remember, more than vividly when I got up one morning as an 8th grader. My mother was ironing. I sent in to tell her I was up.
She was ironing…and was crying. In my memory, that was a first. At least in my recollection. She pointed to the morning newspaper and said, almost a whisper, “Mark, please read that article…and tell me if you were involved.”
I sensed something horribly wrong. I read the article and was aghast…that’s the most polite version. Our pastor at our church had been arrested for pedophilia. Shocking.
My first response, “No, mother, this is a shock. He had nothing to do with me.”
I knew what he did was WRONG….not wrong but WRONG.
Of course he was tried and convicted, moved to Seattle, became a house painter and committed suicide.
I remember something else about sexuality.
One of my dearest friends in early ministry, graduated in my high school class in 1958. We linked up for lunches after each of us was ordained. Met maybe twice a year when I’d visit Portland and my family.
He was a Methodist minister, became Senior Pastor of the largest UMC in Portland.
I remember the lunch when he shared his sexual orientation—was gay—but had to be closeted. He said if he outed himself his ministry would be destroyed.
I grieved for that, but couldn’t inroad his decision about how he managed. A year later I wept when we had lunch, during which he shared he was HIV positive.
His funeral was not easy. I had flown in from Colorado, one of four-clergy who led the worship. By then the congregation learned about my friend.
After that, the former Senior Pastor of the church wrote a history of the church…and included my friend in a mere two paragraphs. It was not an affirmation.
I never wrote this former pastor, had never met him. But, I was furious with him. Even more was upset my dear friend couldn’t un-closet himself.
Where is all this going?
I mentioned I was in Seattle the last few days, had a beautiful meeting/lunch with Joanne Carlson Brown, a treasured clergy buddy.
She wrote what to me is a very deep reflection on the journey a Gay or Lesbian has to take, even when “out.” Joanne has given me her permission to share what she wrote.
Yes, it is lengthy, but its value is not its length but its depth. I share it with you.
Of course I do not know your own perspective and “take” on sexual orientation. However, please read what Joanne shares. To me it’s so wise and powerful.
Blessings upon us all!
Clergy Wellness Reflections
Love -the only Way
Ministry demands that we have authenticity and integrity, honesty and transparency all while maintaining our boundaries appropriately. This is hard enough for anyone, but for queer clergy this has been and in many cases still is impossible. We have to somehow be quiet or hide or dissemble about our true God-given, God-blessed identities as queer folks. The church has legislated us out of the church officially since 1972 but it was going on long before that. So many of our clergy have come of age in a church that only knew fear and rejection and persecution and hate. We have had to sit in meetings and Annual and General Conferences hearing our very being and worth as human beings, our right to exist, never mind clergy, debated for many, many years.
I am old guard. It was my ordination in the Rocky Mountain Conference in 1982 as the first openly gay person to be ordained an elder in the UMC that caused the bit in the Discipline that no “self-identified, practicing homosexual can be ordained, appointed, or reappointed.” to be added. I have never not been “out”. I have been able to do my ministry in a way I needed to do it but that was and is not the case for many of my sibling queer clergy. How to maintain wellness in this atmosphere of distrust, pain, anger, frustration, exclusion?
Community. Love – the only way. It is important to have people to whom you can talk and be honest about who you are and your call to ministry and to support, challenge, and yes, love. We need to find ways to love God, love God’s people and most importantly in this situation to love ourselves as Beloveds of God.
Some of us have been at this a very long time. We have consistently gathered as queer clergy every Annual Conference for dinner at a restaurant a decent way from the bar of the Conference – word spread by mouth by checking with already known folks if it was OK to invite another we knew of. Did people feel safe having that person join us. We have been much more open than in the beginning. Many queer clergy, especially in the youngish clergy are working for change in the Church in their local ministry settings, at Conference level, and nationally. This is the other way we survive – working against injustice in whatever forms we find them as openly queer clergy. But no matter the support, love, community, and justice work it is many times hard to answer “how is it with your soul” in a positive manner. I’m sure other, maybe younger queer clergy will have a different take on this. But I and others have been here for the long haul, being educational tools for the Church- trying to help them understand that we have been called by our radically transforming, loving God. But if we admit it, some of us are tired of fighting – joining the “I’m done” movement. Frankly some of us survive, and even well, but others do not. Folks have been driven out of the church, have committed suicide at not being accepted for ordination simply because of their sexual identity, and have turned their back on religion because of the pain they have experienced.
I was supposed to write about how queer clergy maintain their wellness. That has to be answered by each individual as they find what strength they need to keep fighting, keep doing ministry, keep loving God and God’s people. Personally as an historian when I am searching for anything my first instinct is to go to the people who have gone before us. For spiritual quests I am very Wesleyan. I turn first to Scripture. The passage that soothes my soul is Isaiah 43. I have it printed out and hung on my wall in my office. “ Because you are precious in my sight and honored and I love you”. No one can take that affirmation away from me. I also find the example of Jesus who refused to stop preaching against injustice or abandon those marginalized in society to the point where he was disrupting and upsetting the established order both religious and secular and was executed for that. It gives me strength to go on with what I am called to do – live The Way – that will stand for justice and liberation and radical transforming love in the face of opposition. I also turn to the history of struggles in the past, especially recovering the stories of women queer folks in society and the church. It is important to know you have a history of your own – your own people to guide, inform, and strengthen you. And using other sources that have developed over time to explain or lift up different interpretations of people, events, and attitudes and beliefs. And finally I have my experience that no one can take away of being unconditionally loved by a liberating God who has called me to follow the Way and to minister to God’s people in whatever way I can, in all the ways I can, at all the the time I can. Working my way through Wesley’s theology and how that is experienced and lived in my life is my spiritual practice that gives the solid foundation to withstand the waves of hate, oppression, soul-destroying coming from the Church and the society in which we live.
The pain of GC 2019 is very present. With the Traditional Plan set to take effect on January 1, 2020 many fear what will happen. Others have put their faith and energy in something miraculous happening at GC 2020. But everyone needs to understand the impact those decisions and discussions and debates have on queer clergy and lay souls. There is not an easy answer to how to maintain clergy wellness in the midst of all that is happening in our Church. But we do so for the most part by various means that are all rooted in love – the Way. We are not alone – we have each other and we have our Beloved God. With that affirmation we can overcome anything.